"I'm not a cool designer, and Lanvin is not a cool brand," Alber Elbaz insisted with his typical self-deprecation at the end of yet another standout show. Yeah sure, Alber, and the sun won't rise tomorrow morning. But if he insisted on questioning his own coolness, there was at least no way Elbaz could challenge the clarity and intelligence of a collection that proposed a soup-to-nuts wardrobe (there were even nylon raincoats, for God's sake) of unimpeachably modern, urban chic. Exhibit 1: the girl-on-the-go athleticism of second-skin dresses and suits paired with flats. Exhibit 2: the ludicrous amounts of glamour with which Elbaz managed to swathe that prosaic proposition.
The skin thing was a big deal. As a designer, Elbaz is feeling put out by the way women can buy themselves a new body these days, courtesy of their local cosmetic surgeon. He loves a wrinkle. So he created a collection that was a hymn to skin: wrinkled in Fortuny-like pleating, stretched in all those sheaths. It was a spectacular foundation on which he could lavish increasingly heady colors. From its elegantly taupe-y beginnings, the show spiraled through acid yellow, hot pink, and aqua. Karlie Kloss looked like a great big Georgia O'Keeffe flower as she sashayed down the runway in an opulent orange skirt. And it wasn't only color Elbaz toyed with. He layered on the embellishment with pagan metalwork, climaxing in a gladiator skirt. There's always been that hard edge with him—here, it was apparent in the metal bracelet that cuffed the shoe to the ankle, the leather harness, and the zippers that ran up and down his dresses, back, front, and sides. Arch fan Janet Jackson nailed it backstage when she pinned down her Lanvin persona: "I'm the baddest bitch on the block."
In fact, she had some competition from the models who stalked the catwalk for a finale that brought to mind Yves Saint Laurent's epochal heyday. And, with his hot-wire to the way women feel like dressing now, Alber Elbaz could be the most natural heir to that particular throne.